France's new president

hits the ground running

PARIS - Nicolas Sarkozy took over France's helm yesterday, in a hurry to make good on pledges to restore order to violence-wracked housing projects, to rev up the economy and to bring political enemies into a dramatically different government - expected to be half women.

Jacques Chirac, 74, handed over the nuclear codes and the reins of the world's sixth-largest economy and waved adieu to the Elysee Palace after 12 years marked by diplomatic authority abroad but failed reforms and social tensions at home.

His muted, poignant farewell contrasted with the pomp of the inauguration - the 21-gun salute from the gold-domed Invalides and the Republican Guards prancing up the Champs-Elysees on horseback.

The son of a Hungarian immigrant, Sarkozy is the first president of France born after World War II, though memories of that era loomed on inauguration day. He paid homage to French Resistance fighters and made European integration his first foreign policy priority: Hours after assuming power, he dashed to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sarkozy names his prime minister today, almost certainly ally and four-time minister Francois Fillon. As soon as tomorrow, France may have its new government, streamlined, revamped - and with about half the 15 ministers women.

Sarkozy is a fan of the United States and relations between the two countries are expected to improve.

Mexican gunmen kill 4 cops,

kidnap anti-kidnap chief

HERMOSILLO, Mexico - Forty armed men abducted and killed four Mexican policemen yesterday about 20 miles south of the Arizona border, and the anti-kidnapping chief in another northern Mexico state was reportedly kidnapped.

The assailants drove in 10 to 15 vehicles into the city of Cananea and detained the police who were in two patrol cars, the Sonora state police said in a news release.

The bullet-riddled bodies of the policemen, along with 50 spent cartridges were found on the side of a road hours later.

Meanwhile, authorities in the northern state of Coahuila said men disguised as Mexican federal agents had kidnapped the state's chief anti-kidnapping investigator.

In Mexico City, pageant officials said a dress to be worn by Miss Mexico in the Miss Universe pageant has been changed to show landscapes and pre-Hispanic themes, after the original design - adorned with bullets and sketches of hangings - drew accusations of poor taste.

U.S. businessman jailed,

guilty of raping teenage boy

PUERTO VALLARTA - A U.S. businessman was convicted of raping a teenage boy and sentenced to more than seven years in jail in Mexico.

Thomas Frank White, of San Francisco, who has spent the last four years jailed in Thailand and Mexico on allegations of having sex with minors, was sentenced to 7 years and 7 1/2 months in prison.

White, who founded the brokerage firm Thomas White & Co. in 1978, was arrested in Thailand in 2003 at the behest of Mexican officials, and later extradited.

In August, White agreed to pay $7 million to settle two civil suits filed by American and Mexican youths who claimed they were molested by the financier. That settlement was approved by a federal judge in San Francisco, but was later appealed.

Held for 8 years, hostage flees, treks 17 days in Amazon jungle

BOGOTA - A Colombian police officer held hostage for eight years by leftist rebels was found by police yesterday after escaping from his captors and walking 17 days inside the Amazon jungle.

It was not immediately clear how Jhon Pinchao Blanco fled his captors near the southeastern town of Mitu, where he had been taken hostage during a rebel attack. But police spokesman Sgt. Alberto Cantillo said Blanco had walked for 17 days in the jungle before running into a counter-narcotics patrol yesterday.

"I give thanks to God for this miracle, after having lost so much hope," Blanco's wife, Margoth Zambrano, told RCN TV.

The officer was among about 60 politicians, soldiers and police - including three American defense contractors - held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Latin America's oldest, best-armed guerrilla movement.*

- Associated Press